JJ Grey: ‘I’ve Learned to Let Go and Let Things Work’
JJ Grey's latest studio album, Ol' Glory, hit the streets on Feb. 20 via Mascot Music. Packed with 12 tracks that capture Grey's live energy, the record exudes all that is good with Americana music -- Grey's honest lyrics and powerful vocals are built on a foundation of roots rock, blues and soul.
Diffuser is thrilled to debut a behind-the-scenes look at Grey's latest disc; featuring the likes of Marc Broussard, Luther Dickinson and Anders Osborne, the video paints a gorgeous picture of Grey's career and approach to Ol' Glory (check it out above).
Along with the video, we had the distinct privilege of speaking with Grey about the new record. From his personal appreciation of vinyl to how he's grown over the years as a songwriter, check out our exclusive conversation with Grey below:
First things first: How does it feel to have Ol' Glory out to your fans?
It’s awesome. You know, it's just such a long process, but everything happened and it’s great to have it finally out.
Your debut came out in 2001. From then until now, has your creative process changed much?
I think the only thing that’s really changed is that, more and more, I’ve learned to let go rather than try to force things into a place -- musically or lyrically. I’m still in that process of learning to let go. I’ve found you can always let go more. [Laughs]
What do you mean when you say "let go"?
Most of the time by the time I get to the studio, I know what’s going to work and what’s not. But there are always a couple of extra songs just in case. With this record, it was more of a thing of me putting songs on the record, rather than cutting. This one song, I hadn’t even finished it, and the producer said we had to put it on. So I had to finish it, I had to flesh it out, and I wasn't planning on that at all. That’s what I mean by letting go. I had to just let it happen and let things work. You have some ideas of what you want and then you go into the studio and it can change or it might not. It might sound like all the demos. I just want to be open to either situation, you know? And for the band, I didn’t even give them the chance to learn the songs note for note, it was more about us learning as we played together. They were great, just great.
When did you hit that turning point where you thought you should be more open to letting things happen?
I guess I’ve always known it a little bit. But when it became a real thing, that exact moment, I don’t know. You know, I’m terrible with time. [Laughs] There was just a point where I was tired of being sick all the time on the road. I was touring with pneumonia for a year and I was just tired with it. I realized I wasn’t enjoying anything anymore. I knew there needed to be a change. I made a decision to make a decision to find joy in what I was doing.
You live in the country in Florida, right?
Yeah, I have 26 acres of land.
Does that affect your songwriting and how you find joy in what you do?
One good thing about open space is you have no choice but to be you. There is nobody there to be anything else to -- it’s just you. I know there are great things about the big city, I know that, but with the clock ticking, you wind up being a dog chasing your tail. There’s something great about being in a place where time stands still or creeps along at a much slower pace. I think that’s where my inspiration comes from. It comes out of the land and everything around it.
I grew up in northeast Kansas on a farm and now I live in New York City, so I’m always appreciative of "open space."
I can’t remember which philosopher said it, but one of them said 90-percent of humanity’s problem is it can’t sit quiet in a room by itself. You growing up on a farm in Kansas, you look forward to those moments as a kid to make something out of a rubber band and a stick, you know? You’re not just going, going, going. There’s something about being in open space where things slow down. There’s a reason why people go for a quiet walk through the woods to reflect ... and there’s also a reason why people get drunk and go to a loud, crazy bar. [Laughs] I understand both sides I guess!
Ol' Glory is available on vinyl. Is that something that's important to you personally, or is it just part of the business side of things?
I love it. I love vinyl. I don’t think I’m a hopeless romantic, but I do all of my stuff on the older equipment. I don’t like the way new records sound. For the most part, when I listen to an old record recorded in the late ‘60s or ‘70s, you can hear the difference. Most of today’s gear is about emulating those sounds, so I just record on the original equipment. I feel the same about vinyl, I love pressing music on 180 grams, making deeper grooves, you know? It’s more an event when you listen to a record. I love it, I just love it. It’s really important to me.
JJ Grey's Ol' Glory is out now; you can get details on the record -- as well as Grey's full tour itinerary -- at his official website.